Out-of-Touch Sailor Lands in NZ to Discover the New COVID-19 World

Bill Norrie, 67, set out from Port Renfrew, Canada, nine months ago on a year-long solo circumnavigation of the world. The experienced sailor planned to make his way from Vancouver Island to the Southern Ocean on his 28-foot yacht, Pixie. So far, he has passed South America, Africa and Australia.

Bill Norrie sets off from British Columbia, Canada on September 1. Photo: Cathy Norrie


While he was at sea, the world he is sailing around changed dramatically. In September 2019, when he began, coronavirus had never been mentioned. Norrie first heard the term while in the Southern Ocean. He was last on land in early February, when he made a pit stop in South Africa to make repairs and buy some supplies. At that point, he said, “the outbreak barely registered”. It was only as he continued across the Southern Ocean that the scale of the pandemic dawned on him.

His only connection to the outside world was satellite emails from his wife. She attempted to explain to him the extent of the virus and the bizarre new world he would eventually re-enter. Then, south of Tasmania, an unexpected wave washed through the doorway of his cabin as he was walking through it. It drenched his electrical cabinet and ruined most of the equipment, including his satellite phone. He could now only receive positional information through his online tracker.

Bill Norrie’s route so far. Photo: Cathy Norrie


Norrie arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand on May 15, after three months alone at sea. He was shocked when officials questioned him about his self-isolation plans. Initially, when they said he couldn’t land, Norrie couldn’t help but see the funny side. “I was the most isolated person on the planet, and they didn’t want to let me in!” Eventually, he was deemed not a health risk, and a welcoming party of police officers and local sailors met him as pulled Pixie up to the dock.

He has since become a bit of a celebrity in New Zealand. “I can’t walk down main street without people stopping me, wanting to take a picture with me. I go to a restaurant, there’s a crowd around me….I’ve never had this attention in my whole life.”

Currently, he is carrying out repairs on his boat and electronics, and stocking up for the three-month trip back to Canada. Local sailor Vicki Moore has been helping him gather supplies and she has had to endure a few hostile glares at the supermarket, because her bulk purchases were interpreted as hoarding. “When I bought three packets of yeast, I thought I was gonna be lynched,” she said.

Bill Norrie buys a new pillow to replace his moldy one. Photo: Stuff


Norrie will wend his way back to Canada through French Polynesia. “I’m just so relieved to be out of the Southern Ocean and on my way home,” he said. “It’s a very emotional time.”

Rebecca is a freelance writer and science teacher based in the UK. She is a keen traveler and has been lucky enough to backpack her way around parts of Africa, South America, and Asia. With a background in marine biology, she is interested in everything to do with the oceans. Her areas of expertise include open water sports, marine wildlife and adventure travel.

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2 years ago

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